Meet Three Future Leaders of America
By Kiran Subramanian l April 2, 2021
From the “March for Our Lives” protests against gun violence in 2018 to the “Black Lives Matter” rally last summer and the “Stop Asian Hate Rally” in March, Montgomery teens have become passionately involved in what were once considered adult issues. Three Montgomery seniors in particular have found their voices as leaders throughout the Sturm und Drang.
A classmate reached out to Grace Johnson, asking her to speak at a local “Black Lives Matter” rally in the wake of the George Floyd incident.
“In all honesty,” Johnson recalls, “I was going to say no. Given that there are so few African Americans in our town… “In the end though, I decided that my perspective might be a useful one, considering I come from two races that in many cases historically display such a painful relationship with each other.”
Johnson became involved in the advocacy group, Monty for Justice. In fact, she was one of the speakers at their rally in July, encouraging others to “take their hood off.” What she meant by this was to be more aware about the harsh situations that many minorities have experienced. Johnson says she is grateful that her classmate, Sara Fortunato, reached out to her to about speaking at the protest.
Johnson is now co-chairperson of Montgomery’s Youth Leadership Council—a initiative started by former Mayor Sadaf Jaffer, and is now headed by Commmitteewoman Shelly L. Bell. Johnson says that designing the Youth Council was “phenomenal.”
“We put a lot of time and consideration into designing the council, and I remember many FaceTime calls in August and September that went past midnight as we organized it and chose its members,” She says. “There were so many eager and highly qualified applicants, so selecting the current council was certainly a challenge. All of the members are incredible and the enthusiasm they put into their different projects always inspires me to do more for them.”
Article continues after ad from our sponsor.
In the end, Johnson’s biggest piece of advice for those interested in being active in politics is to, “focus on what you’re passionate about and see what opportunities you find… If you have an area you’re interested in such as the environment, economics, etc. that you want to combine with government, don’t be afraid to pursue those and see what options arise in terms of connecting them to politics.”
Outside of politics, Johnson does many other activities, such as studying foreign languages, participating in the black Student Union and Marching Band.
Just like Johnson, Jordan Spector is a co-chairperson of the Youth Leadership Council. When describing his experience in the YLC, Jordan states: “Working with the YLC has been an incredible experience. Each month, we meet as a large group and invite a guest speaker from the municipal government. I am constantly inspired by the dedication each of the members display.”
Not only is Jordan a part of the YLC, he is also heavily involved in both Model United Nations and Youth and Government. Jordan described the experience as, “...a community of students who are equally as passionate about civic engagement as I am.
Thinking about how divisive politics are today, it seems almost ironic that it was within this debate-centered program that I connected the most with others. However, throughout high school, my interests and friend groups have constantly changed, and it was really in MUN and YAG that I was able to make the closest friendships. It’s the relationships I’ve gained that have made me rejoin these programs all four years of high school.
However, I also discovered a true interest in politics: lively debate, puzzling moral dilemmas. I absolutely loved wrapping my head around each topic introduced. I now serve as an officer within Model UN and the Lt. Governor of the NJYAG Conference.”
Article continues after ad.
These civic engagement clubs got Jordan interested in the political world as, “... in eighth grade… I joined the debate club because it was something my brothers did. I remember one day a high school student visited a club meeting and introduced us to a YMCA program called Youth and Government. I was really interested and was one of a handful of kids to contact her after the meeting and actually join YAG that year. Since then, YMCA programs like YAG and MUN have guided me towards building confidence and finding a voice in politics.”
For those interested in entering the political world, Spector recommends that, “If you’re interested in politics, don’t be afraid to share your opinions with others. Ignore anyone who tells you you’re too young or that you don’t know a topic well enough to have an opinion on it, and just find somewhere to get started.”
Outside of politics, Jordan enjoys making art and serving Montgomery seniors as the class president.
Ayush Nallapally became interested in politics in 2016. “Up until that point, I had never truly voiced my opinions, but had been an avid reader of history,” he says. “Studying American politics and the mechanics of our institution of government had always been fascinating to me. The next logical step was to be brave enough to voice them. I found it interesting that people were so quick to shut down ideas that they didn’t like while preaching to be tolerant. I think that in part spurred me to continue speaking and standing for my beliefs in an act of defiance.”
Nallapally has gotten involved in multiple ways. Firstly, he is a member of the YLC. Regarding his experience, Nallapally states that the YLC, “...has been an interesting and surprisingly fun experience. When I joined, I didn’t really have high expectations for a student committee that worked with the mayor. I wasn’t sure of what I really could get out of this, but Jordan and Grace have done a great job. I’ve been involved in various township meetings on behalf of the council, and then reporting back to the council and giving my own suggestions.”
Article continues after ad from our sponsor.
Not only is Nallapally a member of the YLC, but was a member of NJ LEAD, a program that allowed South Asians to participate in government and politics. Nallapally discussed his experience in the program, stating that there were, “...weekly speaker panels, engaging in fascinating and thought-provoking conversations with numerous politicians and policy-makers. From these speaker panels, I gained a lot of connections with the political world that have helped me immensely after I completed the fellowship program.” Eventually, Nallapally was able to get into more political internships, even getting an internship in Joe Biden’s Presidential campaign.
In the end, Nallapally recommends that teens interested in politics should, “Be willing to be confident and stand strong for your ideals. Just because your ideas don’t align with everyone else doesn’t mean you don’t have the right to voice them. So long as you respect one another and work to find common ground, there is great potential for you to succeed.” Outside of politics, Nallapally enjoys trivia, and playing soccer.
Johnson, Spector, and Nallapally show that people who want to make a change, regardless of their age, can create positive change in the community.